WASHINGTON - A Virginia man was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison for trying to help a Somalia militant group and threatening writers of the satirical "South Park" television show for their depiction of the Prophet Mohammad, the U.S. Justice Department said.
A federal judge in Virginia handed down the sentence for Zachary Chesser, who pleaded guilty to making threats, soliciting others to threaten violence and material support to the group, al Shabaab.
Chesser admitted he ran numerous websites and called for violence against Americans. In one instance he published the home addresses for the writers of "South Park" after they lampooned Mohammad and he urged readers to "pay them a visit."
The episode last year on the cable channel Comedy Central showed Mohammad in a bear suit. Most Muslims consider any depiction of the founder of Islam as offensive.
"Zachary Chesser will spend 25 years in prison for advocating the murder of U.S. citizens for engaging in free speech about his religion," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride, whose office brought the case, said.
"His actions caused people throughout the country to fear speaking out -- even in jest -- to avoid being labeled as enemies who deserved to be killed," he said.
After the 21-year-old Chesser, a U.S. citizen who lived in Fairfax County, completes his prison term, he will be on probation for three years, the department said.
Prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence of 30 years while defense lawyers sought a 20-year prison term.
The Justice Department has said that Chesser told federal agents that he attempted twice to travel to Somalia to join al Shabaab as a foreign fighter. He was arrested in July.
Chesser also told the agents he had been in e-mail contact with the U.S.-born Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to al Qaeda and is believed to be hiding in Yemen.
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